Analyzing Bears’ trade for Khalil Mack from Raiders after four seasons

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With the news that Chicago’s Khalil Mack would miss the rest of the season with foot surgery, it seems like a good time—four seasons—to pass judgment on the Bears-Raiders trade that shook the NFL on Sept. 1, 2018. The Raiders traded Mack plus second-round and seventh-round picks (originally a conditional pick that turned out to be a seventh-rounder) to the Bears for two first-round picks and third-round and sixth-round choices.

It’s so interesting to analyze the trade. The Bears thought Mack would be the missing edge-rush piece they needed to chase and compete with the Packers in the NFC North. But since the trade, Chicago has zero playoff wins and is 1-6 head-to-head with the Packers. The Bears record in the seven Green Bay-Chicago meetings prior to the trade: 1-6. The Raiders got two useable offensive pieces out of the deal—Josh Jacobs and Bryan Edwards—but in all other ways for the franchise, the trade has been a disaster.

The scorecard:

• RAIDERS: The team used the first-round picks on Jacobs in 2019 and cornerback Damon Arnette in 2020, selected wideout Edwards with the third-round pick and used the sixth as a small piece in a trade that sent Kelechi Osemele to New York for a fifth-round pick. When the deal was made, Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who had personnel control of the franchise, said if you’re going to pay a quarterback like Derek Carr franchise-player money, you can’t also pay another player that kind of money and still build a strong roster. Not true, but the Raiders chose to spend the cap money they saved by not paying Mack on a slew of players acquired in the 2019 offseason who turned out to be crushing failures: Trent BrownAntonio BrownLamarcus JoynerTyrell Williams. The Raiders got nothing but headaches with Antonio Brown, and wasted $85 million on Williams, Joyner and Trent Brown. Hmmm . . . $85 million. That’s about what it would have cost to keep Mack for these four seasons. Three failed players cost that much for two seasons.

Jacobs is a good NFL back, seventh in the league in rushing yards since being drafted. Edwards is a good piece on the Vegas receiver depth chart (32 catches in 1.5 years), middling value for a third-round pick. But overall, surrendering Mack and the 40th pick in the 2020 draft for massive cap room and two first-round picks should have yielded the backbone of a franchise. It hasn’t.

Chicago Bears v Las Vegas Raiders
Bears pass rusher Khalil Mack. (Getty Images)

• BEARS: Mostly, they won the trade, because Mack’s production has been vital is lifting the Bears to third, eighth, 11th and 12th in yards allowed in his four seasons. And the added pick, tight end Cole Kmet, has been solid in his first 1.5 seasons. But the Bears have paid Mack $22.5 million a year in cash, on average. And, on average, Mack has been PFF’s 15th-rated edge-rusher over the past four years.

It’s hard to quantify how much a very good pass-rusher contributes to a team’s bottom line. After Mack’s infusion of energy and great play in 2018 lifted the Bears to the NFC North title, the Bears are 19-24 since. Certainly he can’t have the impact of, say, a quarterback, and he can’t make up for the Bears’ poor quarterback play in the last three seasons. But overall, I’d have expected more from the Bears than this combined record atop the NFC North since opening day 2018:

Green Bay, 42-20-1
Minnesota, 31-28-1
Chicago, 31-29

• MACK: Losers galore in this deal. One winner: Mack has played 54 games as a Bear—and made $90.1 million in these four seasons.

So many lessons:

1. Without a top-tier quarterback, acquiring a very good non-quarterback at any position is not enough to propel a team to greatness. So for the Bears, missing on Mitchell Trubisky was more of a negative for the franchise than acquiring Mack was a positive. Now the Bears will sink or swim on the Justin Fields pick.

2. The late George Young, when GM of the Giants, used to say, “Players don’t play better when you pay them more money.” Trent Brown was an okay tackle for New England in 2018. He was PFF’s 37th-rated tackle in 2018, playing for New England, allowing 37 sacks/hits/hurries of the quarterback. But the Raiders signed him to a four-year, $66-milion contract in 2019. He was a terrible investment, and reportedly undisciplined too; Vic Tafur of The Athletic reported he ballooned to 400 pounds while a Raider. The team paid him $37 million for two poor seasons—he missed 16 of 32 games due to injuries—then traded him back to New England. Investing in Trent Brown is a big reason why the Raiders gave up a top pass-rusher. These personnel mistakes make it difficult to build a team with a solid base.

3. Big trades pump energy into franchises that are treading water. But they can be fool’s gold without smart teams either building around a great new player, or using high picks to build a future. This offseason could be a period of unprecedented veteran QB trades. Deshaun Watson is likely to be dealt by Houston, and Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson might be traded too. So many of these trades—three or four high picks for a great player—look lousy for the team getting the bounty a few years down the road. The GM pulling the trigger, and the scouting infrastructure he has built, will be on the line. Houston GM Nick Caserio has never made a huge trade before, and he’s never had a single first-round or second-round pick, never mind a slew of them. There won’t be time for him to make rookie mistakes if he trades Watson.

4. Jimmy Johnson used to gather multiple picks. In most cases after the Cowboys drafted Troy Aikman first overall in 1989, Johnson would rather have had, say, the 30th and 45th picks instead of the 10th. He once told me he was more comfortable with more picks because he knew he was going to make mistakes in every draft. The Raiders were taking a chance with a character risk in 2020, Ohio State cornerback Arnette, with the 19th pick. Say they dealt that pick for similar value on the draft-trade value chart on draft weekend. The 19th pick has similar value, combined, to two Miami picks, 39 and 56. These are all pie-in-the-sky inventions, of course. But imagine the Raiders today, after using the 39th pick on cornerback Trevon Diggs of Alabama, and the 56th on linebacker Logan Wilson. Two reliable, long-term building blocks. My point: Unless it’s on a quarterback, I’m not taking character risks in the first round, ever.

Read more in Peter King’s Football Morning in America column

Super Bowl LVII storylines: Defending Mahomes, Hurts

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The three things you need to know about Super Bowl LVII, per Next Gen Stats, that I think could play big parts in who wins:

The Eagles do not need to blitz to affect Patrick Mahomes. This is the craziest thing about a formidable Philadelphia front: Of their league-best 77 sacks in 19 games, including playoffs, 57 came when the Eagles rushed four players. That means 74 percent of their sacks have come on non-blitzes. Which, of course, means that Mahomes will likely most often be trying to complete his passes with a battered receiving corps against seven men in coverage. Tough duty for even a great one like Mahomes. No team in the seven-year history of Next Gen Stats has had such success rushing the quarterback without blitzing as the ‘22 Eagles.

Kansas City must be considering offensive alternatives with its beat-up receiver corps. Much has been said about the lack of Tyreek Hill in this offense, and it’s remarkable that the team has been so explosive—and Mahomes so productive—with all the new receivers in his arsenal. New, and not as fast. In 2018 through ’21, with Hill onboard, Mahomes threw 47 “deep TD passes,” defined as passes that traveled at least 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. In 2022, minus Hill, Mahomes threw one. We’ve seen all year that Mahomes is far more of an intermediate thrower this year, and he’s been great at it. One more NGS nugget that could come into play: Kansas City has scored 35 touchdowns this year—most in the NFL—with two tight ends on the field. If Travis Kelce isn’t a 100-yard factor in this game, I’ll be surprised.

Steve Spagnuolo beat the 18-0 Patriots with an unpredictable pass-rush in the 2007 season. Will he blitz Jalen Hurts in the same way in Super Bowl LVII? Hurts, per Next Gen, had the sixth-worst success rate against the blitz this season. His success rate is 47.7 percent against non-blitzes. One thing Hurts has going for him is the best offensive line in football, a line well-suited to defend against great rushers. He’ll need it against Chris Jones and Frank Clark.

Lots of great angles in this tight, competitive matchup. Those are just three.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column

Concrete takeaways from Broncos’ deal with Sean Payton

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The late Giants’ GM, George Young, once had a great truism about coaching searches: “They’re never done till they’re done.” Reporters in this time of intense media would be wise to keep that in mind.

Reading about the Denver job in the two weeks before the hire of Sean Payton last week left these impressions: He wouldn’t want the job because of a conflict with an owner. Or he had a bad interview, didn’t have a second interview as others did, and was out of the running. Or Broncos owners never wanted Payton as their coach. Or the Broncos wanted DeMeco Ryans and got jilted, and so went to Payton as a fallback.

For someone so unwanted as Payton, it seems funny Denver traded first- and second-round draft choices (getting a third- in return) to New Orleans for Payton, then made him one of the highest-paid coaches in NFL history, with a five-year deal worth at least $18 million a year. The Broncos once were interested in Jim Harbaugh and then Ryans—neither of whom would require draft-choice compensation, and neither of whom would cost upwards of $18 millon a year. But things change during the process of looking for a coach, so it’s wise to not speak in absolutes till it’s over.

A few things we do know about the Payton deal with Denver:

  • Denver talked with Saints GM Mickey Loomis about two deals for Payton, who required compensation because he was still under contract to New Orleans: a first-round pick and a third-round pick, or a first-rounder and second-rounder, with the Broncos getting a third-rounder in return. Denver wanted the second option, because it would leave them with an equal number of day-two picks instead of being down one. Officially, Denver trades the 30th pick this year and a second-round pick in 2024 and gets a third-round pick in 2024 in return.
  • Payton had the best chance of turning Russell Wilson around. The first time I ever met Wilson, at Seahawks training camp, he said to me: “Who’s taller—me or Drew [Brees]?” I think he was genuinely curious about it. (I’d guess Wilson, by a fraction.) But Wilson and Brees have gotten to be friends, and Wilson has great admiration for him. So, Wilson’s at a low point after his disastrous first year in Denver. He wanted Payton to get the job, and he’s willing to be coached hard by him. Wilson has been reaching out to Brees to get a preview of coming attractions. History lesson: Brees was a free agent coming off shoulder surgery in 2006, and Miami was iffy on signing him because of his shoulder, and the Saints went after him hard. Brees came under Payton’s wing with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. Sound familiar?
  • The presence in the interview process of minority Broncos owner Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. Secretary of State, was a plus. Payton was impressed by her, and one of the majority owners, Greg Penner. He thinks he’ll be able to form the kind of close relationship with GM George Paton that he had with Loomis, who remains one of his best friends, in New Orleans.
  • Payton is wide open about his defensive staff, and won’t be in a hurry to fill it out. He’ll take his time to find a coordinator he thinks he’ll mesh with. He won’t be afraid to pick a strong-minded tough guy like Brian Flores, who he’s scheduled to interview. The defensive coordinator of the Broncos, as Dennis Allen was under Payton in New Orleans, is going to be the head coach of the defense.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column